Most of the news had been drained from the story by the time ABC News aired its heavily promoted story late Thursday night about Marianne Gingrich, a former wife of GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich.
Her allegation that he wanted an “open marriage,” so that he could carry on an affair with the woman who would become his present wife, was repeated throughout the day on various networks and had been the explosive opening to a nationally televised debate earlier in the evening.
The seven-minute “Nightline” story included a tidbit about Gingrich’s behavior during the period. According to his ex-wife, Gingrich and Callista Bisek, now his third wife, were carrying on their affair “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington. And he always called me at night. He always ended with, ‘I love you.’ Well, she was there, listening,” Marianne Gingrich said.
According to ABC, Marianne Gingrich became the subject of an FBI sting operation in Paris in the late 1990s, involving an arms dealer working undercover for the U.S. government. The network said the investigation was dropped but that the then-Mrs. Gingrich had claimed that she could “get things done” in Congress and had sought a $500,000 down payment as part of a $10 million bribe to influence her husband.
Marianne Gingrich denied the accusation and blamed it on an unnamed convicted felon.
“This is all made-up, fabricated hogwash,” said the former Mrs. Gingrich, laughing off the suggestion that she had tried to profit from her then-speaker husband’s position. “Heavens, no,” she said, while acknowledging that she had met with the man.
His ex-wife’s accusation about an open marriage was the subject of the first question in Thursday night’s presidential debate. Gingrich blasted the allegation, calling it false, and brought the crowd in the debate hall to its feet by attacking ABC for pursing the story and CNN moderator John King for asking about it.
Gingrich said that “every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren’t interested, because they would like to attack any Republican.”
Gingrich’s daughters—from the marriage that preceded the one to Marianne Gingrich—told ABC that the story was without merit.
Kathy Lubbers said, “The truth is our father and Marianne had a difficult marriage. They had a difficult divorce. She’s unhappy . . . He’s a much different person than he was then.”
Marianne Gingrich was married to the then-congressman for 18 years, a period that coincided with his rise to power in the House, including his four years as speaker. She has been critical of her former husband in previous print interviews.
But this was the first time she had spoken on camera. The ABC interview, conducted last week, took her allegations to another level—injecting the “open marriage” claim into a pivotal juncture in the 2012 presidential contest, with Gingrich’s poll numbers increasing rapidly in advance of Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” Gingrich said to cheers and applause in the CNN debate.
Gingrich said his daughters “wrote the head of ABC, and made the point that [airing the interview] was wrong, that they should pull it. And I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.” The audience again responded with boisterous cheers and applause.